The CMA is reminding local authorities that schemes aimed at reducing consumption of high-strength alcohol must not breach competition law.
These schemes can take a variety of forms and sometimes include local authorities encouraging retailers to remove high-strength alcohol products from sale for public health and safety reasons.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has written to the Local Government Association, local authorities and other relevant bodies to remind them to consider the CMA’s guidance materials, originally issued last year. The materials are designed to help authorities design and implement schemes that do not breach competition law.
The CMA is also clarifying the narrow circumstances where it is likely to consider taking enforcement action, namely where a scheme is suspected of acting as a cover for price-fixing between competing retailers or where it is suspected of allowing retailers to share future pricing intentions, which in both cases could result in consumers paying more.
The CMA’s guidance makes clear that retailers can make an independent decision to join a scheme and stop selling high-strength alcohol, provided they don’t discuss this or agree to this in co-operation with other retailers, either directly or indirectly.
John Kirkpatrick, CMA Senior Director, Research, Intelligence and Advocacy, said:
“We are aware that local authorities support these schemes to bring about positive public health and safety outcomes and we are also aware that the industry has concerns about whether such schemes comply with the law.
“We are reminding local authorities how competition law might apply to such schemes, so they can consider how to introduce schemes which achieve the desired results without breaking the law.
The CMA is the UK’s primary competition and consumer authority. It is an independent non-ministerial government department with responsibility for carrying out investigations into mergers, markets and the regulated industries and enforcing competition and consumer law.